The fig tree

A traditional African folktale about respect and equity among all human beings, excerpted from “We start the fire, you bring a story — African Community Storytelling”, an upcoming Ayzoh! book for Unesco.


Once upon a time there was an orphan who grew up with his stepmother. He lived with her and her son but the two children were not treated equally. The orphan had to work much harder. And as if that were not enough, the children had to wash their hands before having their meal, the orphan with oil, his stepbrother with water.

And only he whose hands were dry was allowed to have his meal. So the brother was the only one to have his meal, while the orphan was sent to the bushes to find some leaves for the sauce. There he pleaded with a big fig tree for its fruits and sang:

Lower your branches, lower your branches, big fig tree.
Lower your branches — for the child who has lost his father,
lower your branches — for the child who has lost his mother.
Once, for having our meal, there were two of us,
one washed his hands with water,
the other with oil,
he, whose hands were dry was allowed to have his meal!

The fig tree lowered its branches and the child ate its fruits until his hunger was satisfied and he turned back home.

One day a fig fell down into the basket in which the child was collecting the leaves for the sauce. The stepmother tried the exquisite fruit and told the child to show her the fig tree.

Upon coming to the fig tree she saw that the tree was very high and that she was not able to reach the figs. She became angry and told the child to tell her how he had picked the fruits. So the child began to sing:

Lower your branches, lower your branches big fig tree.
Lower your branches — for the child who has lost his father,
lower your branches — for the child who has lost his mother.
Once, for having our meal, there were two of us,
one washed his hands with water,
the other with oil,
he, whose hands were dry was allowed to have his meal!

The fig tree lowered its branches, and in order to pick as many figs as possible the evil stepmother climbed up the tree. The child seized the opportunity to punish the bad woman and sang:

Rise, rise big fig tree,
take away the evil stepmother, up to the sky,
for she is the one who tells us to wash our hands with water and oil.

The fig tree rose higher and higher. The evil stepmother asked for mercy and swore never to be unfair again. The child had mercy. He sang and the tree lowered its branches again. As of that day the child was never treated badly again.

The fig tree

by Seble (Suri) Getachew time to read: 2 min
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